Sunday, May 25, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 10 2014


The Gold Coast Suns continue to improve their best ever ranking by the week, moving up to eleventh, and almost into positive territory in terms of ranking points. Apart from Melbourne, the Suns are the most improved team of the past five weeks (see the return of the Delta Past 5 column in the table below).


It is a bit tough to spotlight a team here that actually won on the weekend, but Collingwood have taken an ever-so-slight step back in recent weeks, and were expected to beat the Eagles at home by more than they did.


Almost halfway through the season and there has only been one change to the top eight-ranked teams – Port Adelaide replacing their co-tenants Adelaide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Think Like A Freak – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

In the lead-up to their third book together, ‘Think Like A Freak’, authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunber had been claiming that this book was more prescriptive than its predecessors, ‘Freakonomics’ and its souped-up sequel ‘Superfreakonomics’. That had me a little worried, as to me the weakest chapter of ‘Superfreakonomics’ was when Levitt and Dubner seemed to put aside their digging through the data and got almost polemical with their chapter on the relative ineffectiveness of the current approaches to combat global warming. Fortunately, ‘Think Like A Freak’ is not all that prescriptive, or at least the world-view it espouses was already implicit in their first books anyway. Or maybe I am just too much of the ‘Freakonomics’ type of view – honestly, I cannot think of a non-fiction book that has had more of an effect on my life and career  - that it did not seem all that revelatory to me. More likely, if you enjoyed the first two books you were probably a little on your way to thinking like a ‘freak’ anyway.

I must say that I would already be inclined to agree with a book that claimed the three hardest words in the language are ‘I don’t know’, and pushes ‘the upside of quitting’. I completely agree with the view that many people claim they know more than they do (probably including me, at least on occasion… ha!), and that it is hard for people to admit failure on a project. The chapter on why Van Halen singer David Lee Roth was like King Solomon was also a neat bit of story-telling, the chapter title harking back to the first book’s comparison of what schoolteachers and sumowrestlers have in common – a mystery with a surprising but logical conclusion. Other chapters, such as how to persuade people, were less compelling, although they also have their neat twists.

Overall, this was the least (and possibly last) of the three ‘Freakonomics’ books so far, but for me that is like saying it is the least of the three Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ films – it is pretty hard to live up to the first two books’ subjects of corrupt sumo wrestlers, ambitious drug dealers, and the economics of being a prostitute. It's Levitt – it’s great – and thank the econ-gods we have the best blog going around to tide us over until the next instalment.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Wooden Finger Five - May 2014

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest final was the best final in … well, possibly its entire history. There were nine or ten that were actually half-decent. And here were five of the best:

Blonde-haired Sanna Nielsen certainly got the male hearts a-beating, and charmed the female hearts with her ballad that fell on just the right side of Celine Dion. Some debate ensued about whether she was singing ‘undo my sad’ or ‘undo myself’ in the chorus (it is the former). Throw in a post-second verse key change, and you have another Swedish/Scandinavian Eurovision classic.

In my view, this was the best Eurovision track since perhaps the Norwegian violin song with twenty words, or at least since Lena’s ‘Satellite’. The two singers stood on the stage facing each other rather than the audience, and gave a beautiful account of what it felt like to be in the stages a few months after a tumultuous break-up; a subject that is relatively foreign to a contest that has essentially become ‘Let’s Get Loud’ in Slavic accents. They surely would have won if the Austrian singer had not kept her beard (see below), in any case I think this will be the most enduring song from this year’s contest. Their image was taken from Jack White and Reese Witherspoon playing June Carter, but the Common Linnets and the Dutch should be very proud of this track.
3.       Round And Round – Tinkara Kovac (Slovenia)
A friend of mine claimed ‘Slovenia was robbed’, and having listened to this track a few more times after the competition finished, I can see where he is coming from, though I still think the Netherlands and Sweden were better. The Jethro Tull flute at the beginning was somewhat superfluous, and meant that Tinkara Kovac had an annoying prop to hold for the remainder of the track. What made this track on the night was her throwing her head back as she belted out the words ‘what are we CHANG-ING?!’. Alas, those ever-ridiculous voters did not agree, and they voted her second-last (a fact I did not remember until I looked it up just then).
As indie as they come. If by indie you mean the piano of Keane, the ‘whoah-ohs’ out of Coldplay, and the suits out of Maximo Park. But I am a sucker for most things that sound kind like an anthem, that is by anthem if you mean something that reminds me of Springsteen (or at least the Killers’ imitation of Spingsteen), and not an anthem that reminds me of a clip of Ibiza.

Yes, I do not think it would have won if the Austrian singer had not kept her beard, but hey, it was still probably worthy of a top five or ten finish, and it is far from the worst winner the Eurovision Song Contest has had. The music was a bit James-Bondish (or maybe James Bond recast as a semi-pornographic flick – ‘RISE like a phoenix’), though you could also imagine it as the closing track of a 2010s version of ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’. Actually, it brought to mind for me Antony And The Johnsons’ ‘I Am A Bird’ album, in terms of the image of a bird serving as a metaphor for being ‘re-born’ into another gender.  In any case, my aunt who is from Austrian heritage can barely believe that a bearded lady got them over the line. But from my recollection, Eurovision Song Contest competitors are two from two from trans-sexuals (Dana International winning for Israel). So maybe that is the key to Eurovision success after all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 9 2014


The schizophrenic Roos move up to fifth (barely) after thrashing the Brisbane Lions. As said before here, North Melbourne looks to have taken a slight step back from last season, but they are getting over the line for the win more often and look well-placed to get the finals spot they missed out on in 2013.


Richmond loses half a dozen ranking points and its spot in the top eight after kicking every shot it had on goal last week through the behind posts. Its 2013 form is what keeps the Tigers in ninth spot – based on 2014 form alone they would be ranked in twelfth spot.

(That bitterness you can detect is me as a Tigers supporter finally getting tired of football. Crisis blah blah crisis blah crisis crisis. Who even cares? I would rather pull out all of my toenails with a toothpick than watch Footy Classified tomorrow night.)   

Fremantle take back second spot from Geelong after beating the Cats in Matthew Pavlich’s 300th game. The Dockers have faced some tough opposition early on in 2014 and their performances actually have not been as ‘mediocre’ as their coach recently claimed.


Monday, May 12, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 8 2014


West Coast picks up a few ranking points and a ranking spot after thrashing the GWS Giants.


Nothing of note really. Boo to the bye rounds.


Just a reminder: even teams that do not play can change in ranking points as the system reassesses the relative strength of their previous opponents.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 7 2014


The Gold Coast Suns achieve their highest-ever ranking with a big win over the Kangaroos in Melbourne. The Suns move up from 15th to 12th this week, gaining seven and a half ranking points from their impressive win.


A few teams take big hits this week: St. Kilda from their 100+ point mauling against the Hawks, North Melbourne from their aforementioned loss to the Suns, Brisbane from their big loss at home to Sydney, and Adelaide from losing at home to the 17th ranked Demons.


Hawthorn is now rated as being four goals ahead of anyone else … although that gap may magically disappear when they play the Cats again.

The AFL Team of the Second Century

This week, the Herald Sun ‘rebooted’ the VFL/AFL Team of the Century that was selected in 1996, updating the ‘best’ team to include players up to the present day. It is a topic that I have often thought about, as have many others, but the difficulty of course in undertaking the exercise is that I have never seen most of the players.* Whereas if I did it for the AFL’s second century, that is 1997 onwards, I can claim to having watched all of the players.

I found the team pretty easy to select actually. One difficulty was what to do with players who crossed ‘centuries’ like Wayne Carey. Though Carey only played half of his career after 1996 it seems to me ridiculous not to have him included in either the AFL Team of the First Century or the Second when he has clearly been better than any other centre half-forward that has come after. Similarly I also put Tony Lockett in, as while other full-forwards have kicked more goals since ’96 (Matthew Lloyd in particular) none of them would generally be rated above him, and Lockett played enough seasons after that date to make his selection defensible. I also considered Glen Jakovich, but Jakovich did not make a single All-Australian team after 1996, and the difference between him and my selection Justin Leppitsch was not large enough to overlook that point. So here it is:

B: Gavin Wanganeen (Ess/PA), Matthew Scarlett (Geel), Dustin Fletcher (Ess)

HB: Andrew McLeod (Adel), Justin Leppitsch (BL), Corey Enright (Geel)

C: Nathan Buckley (Coll), Michael Voss (BL), Chris Judd (WC/Carl)

HF: James Hird (Ess), Wayne Carey (NM/Adel), Mark Ricciuto (Adel)

F: Lance Franklin (Haw), Tony Lockett (Syd), Ben Cousins (WC/Rich)

R: Dean Cox (WC), Robert Harvey (StK), Gary Ablett (Geel/GC)

I: Dane Swan (Coll), Nick Riewoldt (StK), Matthew Pavlich (Fre), Adam Goodes (Syd)

I think this team captures pretty much every significant player since 1997, except possibly Jonathan Brown. But if Brown came in, then I think the player that would have to come out is Nick Riewoldt. And given that Brown only has one All-Australian selection to Riewoldt’s four, and Riewoldt also has an AFL Players MVP to his name, I am sticking with the St. Kilda captain. Luke Hodge for Corey Enright also made me think a bit, but I stuck with Enright because he is a ‘true’ defender, and there are enough midfielders slotted elsewhere.

Of course by the time the AFL Team of the Second Century, or the Bicentennial, is picked most of these players will be well and truly forgotten. It will be up to a few to argue that Gary Ablett was talented enough to adapt to using jetpacks in the forward 50.

*PS: For what it is worth only Wayne Carey, Gary Ablett Jr., and Michael Voss would force their way into the team for me, at the expense of Jack Dyer and Greg Williams (with the bench expanded to four players).